Rules of the Code

By Casey Bukro

The Society of Professional Journalists is thinking about amending or replacing its code of ethics, the current version of which was adopted in 1996.

One before that was adopted in 1973 and amended a couple of times with some word changes.

Some documents stand the test of time, others do not. SPJ is trying to decide in which category its present code belongs.

The society is surveying its members, asking what they think: Keep the code, replace it or change it?

Some members argue that in the 17 years since the code was adopted, journalism in the United States has changed a lot, including the technology journalists use, such as cell phones and social media.

Others say ethical standards, like honesty, fairness and accuracy are not governed by changes in technology. They are constants even in changing times.

We’ll see how that plays out.

Meanwhile, the Joplin Globe points out in a piece on “guiding words” that Walter Williams, the first dean of the Missouri School of Journalism, wrote what now is known as the “Journalist’s Creed” in 1914.

The Globe printed the “Journalist’s Creed” in full “to remind our readers and ourselves why these ethics are as timely today as they were almost 100 years ago.” And just as important.

The words are a bit flowery, reflecting a writing style that was fitting 100 years ago. The creed makes no mention of horses, buggies, pens or ink.

It begins, “I believe in the profession of journalism.” Such implacable resolve in the importance of journalism in a Democracy is as vital today as it was 100 years ago.

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About cbukro

Casey Bukro was inducted into the Chicago Journalism Hall of Fame in 2008 for outstanding contributions to Chicago journalism, after a 45 year career with the Chicago Tribune. Bukro retired from the Tribune in 2007 as overnight editor. He had pioneered in environmental reporting and in 1970 became the first full-time environment specialist at a major metropolitan newspaper in the United States and covered major developments on that beat for 30 years. He won the newspaper’s highest editorial award in 1967 for a series on Great Lakes pollution. The Society of Professional Journalists awarded Bukro its highest honor, the Wells Key, in 1983 for writing that organization’s first code of ethics. He is a past president of SPJ’s national ethics committee and a past president of the Chicago Headline Club. Bukro graduated with bachelor and master degrees from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. In 1998, he received the Northwestern University Alumni Association’s alumni service award for 17 years of volunteer service to the university. He has lectured in environmental journalism and journalism ethics at Northwestern, the University of Chicago, DePaul University, Loyola University Chicago, Columbia College, Columbia University and others. Before joining the Tribune staff, Bukro worked at the former City News Bureau of Chicago and the Janesville Gazette, Janesville, Wis.

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